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Wilson County Judge fed up with DCS leniency

Jacob Smith • Sep 21, 2017 at 4:39 PM

Wilson County Judge Barry Tatum sentenced a boy to be sent to the main Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ headquarters in downtown Nashville after Tatum became fed up with the agency’s inability to find a secure facility for the boy.

The boy was taken into custody during the early morning hours of Sept. 15 after a Wilson County deputy saw a stolen vehicle at an abandoned house in Lebanon.

The deputy went around to the back of the house, where he saw the suspect run away. After a brief foot chase, the boy was arrested.

The incident was associated with a number of juveniles taken into custody in August who were linked to multiple car thefts. Two of the juveniles were escapees from the Department of Children’s Services when the auto thefts took place.

“Our patrol officers have been on high alert regarding the recent increase of auto thefts and responded accordingly to information that has been developed over a period of time by our investigators,” said Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan. “This juvenile has repeatedly escaped from the custody of the Department of Children’s Services within the past year, five times to be exact, and I have some concerns of the continuous problems that DCS is having on the number of juveniles that are escaping from their placements at an alarming rate. Citizens have been terrorized in their homes and their properties that otherwise could have been prevented.”

The boy was charged with multiple offenses that included six counts of theft of property worth more than $1,000, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, criminal impersonation, two counts of evading arrest, disorderly conduct and probation violation.

The boy pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges in juvenile court, and Tatum ordered him placed in a secured facility provided by DCS.

When DCS reported it didn’t have any open beds in a secured facility, Tatum ordered the boy sent to DCS headquarters to be kept until a bed opened. In sending the boy to the DCS headquarters, Tatum also sent the organization a message, Bryan said.

“We’re fed up,” said Bryan. “I’m fed up; the court’s fed up; the judges are fed up. We wanted to put this kid in a secure facility, but [DCS] told us they didn’t have any beds. So the judge decided to send him to the headquarters. Well, within an hour of us taking him over there, a bed opened up.”

Rob Johnson, director of communications with DCS said he understood Tatum’s frustration.

“In cases like these, when a youth has not responded well to treatment and services – or starts making bad decisions again after completing a program – the department must consider stronger options,” said Johnson.

Bryan cited the frequency of the problem as one of the main issues that led to the ruling.

“This is one of many of these incidents that we’ve been involved in,” said Bryan. “People are being terrorized by juveniles in DCS custody, and the county has to pay for it.”

Two days after Tatum’s ruling, Mt. Juliet police found a 16-year-old runaway in the parking lot of a Red Lobster in Greenbrier.

“We’re not doing them justice,” said Bryan. “These kids need help; it needs to stop.”

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